MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins were hoping for five strong innings from starter Chris Archer, a lead and some momentum in trying to catch the Guardians in the American League Central entering Saturday night's clash at Target Field.
Minnesota ended up with another short start -- this time due to injury to Archer -- an early deficit, and a second straight comeback that fell short and further complicated the Twins’ postseason chances.
Archer left after two innings with right pectoral tightness, reliever Cole Sands struggled in his first inning of work and Minnesota faced a six-run deficit before a ninth-inning rally came up short in a 6-4 loss.
“The challenges presented themselves almost immediately today,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I do like what we did. I do like that we get out there and we end up with the go-ahead run at the plate. We certainly had a chance to win the game. But when you’re behind like that and in a spot like we were in, it’s pretty hard to come back and win those types of ballgames.”
Minnesota had surrendered the first seven runs in an eventual 7-6 loss on Friday night in the series opener. The Twins, who have lost eight of 10, have fallen to third place in the AL Central, 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Guardians and 2 1/2 games behind the White Sox.
With Saturday’s loss, Minnesota (69-69) dropped to .500 for the first time since April 24. On Friday night, the Twins fell to third place for the first time since April 22.
All the promise of a home series against Cleveland has dissipated after two losses.
“We know where we are right now, so we’ve just got to play hard,” rookie Jose Miranda said. “We’ve got a good team. I’d still say we’ve got to take it day by day. We know we still have  more [regular-season] games, so game by game right now.”
Baldelli didn’t have an update on Archer postgame. The veteran right-hander was getting tests done.
“He didn’t look like himself from the very beginning of the outing,” Baldelli said. “When you see that, sometimes guys don’t look quite normal and they come around a little bit, and then they end up throwing the ball pretty well. That does happen, at times. This wasn’t one of those times, though. He wasn’t going to be able to continue and keep pitching.”
Archer, who hasn’t gotten an out in the sixth inning in his 25 starts this season, walked the first hitter of the game, Steven Kwan. Amed Rosario followed with a line-drive, two-run homer. After allowing a single to José Ramírez off Miranda’s glove, Archer got three straight outs to end the inning.
Archer followed with a perfect second inning, but he received treatment between innings.
“He was getting worked on in the tunnel,” Baldelli said. “I didn't realize it was his pec even. He was getting a couple of things worked on. That combined with just general mannerisms and understanding him and where he's at, I knew physically he wasn't feeling really good. Then combining that with obviously what we were seeing out on the field, both command and stuff were off.”
Sands relieved Archer to start the third. He walked four batters and hit two others in the inning as he issued a bases-loaded walk and hit a batter with the bases loaded.
Baldelli said Sands had plenty of time to warm up after the manager alerted home-plate umpire Nic Lentz of Archer’s injury.
“I don't think it was a lack of time or preparation,” Baldelli said. “I think he couldn't find his release point for a period of time and then he found it. But that inning was a challenge to get through.”
Baldelli hoped he could have Archer for five and turn the later innings over to his more proven bullpen arms. A big deficit for the second night in a row called for Sands and other lower-leverage relievers.
“I think the strain of having to go through that does make you stronger going forward, but also this is an important series and we need to find ways to stay in these games,” Baldelli said. “And we need that from the start. Unfortunately we haven’t had that and it’s made it tough.”
Minnesota scored four in the ninth and had the potential winning run at the plate, with runners on first and third, when Max Kepler grounded out to end the game.
Kepler also had a home run taken away on a leaping catch by left fielder Will Benson in the eighth and had a potential RBI line drive snagged by second baseman Andrés Giménez, who was playing short right field in the shift.
Baldelli perfectly encapsulated Kepler’s tough luck, rallies coming up short and two missed opportunities against Cleveland.
“The what-ifs don’t matter,” Baldelli said. “The wins matter.”